New research findings from the scientific journal Open Quaternary resolves a 50-year old mystery centering on a pair of fossilized teeth. These were found in 1970, in Yukon, a territory in northwest Canada.
The team of scientists identified the fossils belonging to hyenas, which insinuates that they roamed Canada’s Arctic about a million years ago. In addition, the study has also helped to analyze the evolution of the feliform carnivoran mammals.
The fossils were discovered during a paleontological expedition in 1973 in Yukon’s Old Crow Basin. For over a century, a team of researchers and scientists along with a group of indigenous explorers have sought answers based around the mystery of the fossils. According to reports, out of the 50,000 specimens collected, only two could belong to hyenas.
The quest for findings lasted more than 50 years. Paleontologist Grant Zazula has played a crucial role in the discovery. The teeth were exhibited at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, where Zazula first chanced upon them.
Although scientists had long believed that the fossils could belong to hyena the assumption lacked evidence. This became possible after Zazula, together with Jack Tseng, an evolutionary biologist and specialist in hyenas and Lars Werdelin carried out a study centering on the fossils.
“A meeting of minds came together,” commented Zazula. “Because (Tseng) is so well-versed in hyena fossils he knew instantly right away what they were.”
This study under the collaboration of experts also unveiled various facts about the fossils. For instance, it also determined the age of the fossils. It was claimed that the fossil teeth were between 850,000 and 1.4 million years old.
Moreover, the study examined the commute of the fossils to the place in question. Experts suggest that although modern-day hyenas live in Africa, fossils from the ancient genus are found in extreme directions with a 6000-kilometer gap; in Mongolia as well as in Mexico.
According to the experts, a key to the answer laid in this diversity of direction, it could thus be believed that the hyenas arrived in North America from Russia.
“We’re so used to thinking of Hyenas living in places like Africa, where they’re running around the savannah,” Zazula commented. “But to think of them living in snow and 24-hour darkness in the winter is totally different.” This further shed light on the vast difference of ancient hyenas to modern ones.